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Jury Calls for Death Penalty in 1991 Murder

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A jury recommended the death penalty Wednesday for a serial robber who killed a Tustin clerk and stole $20,000, rejecting a defense argument that there was no physical evidence linking the defendant to the murder.

The Orange County Superior Court jury that last week convicted John Clyde Abel, 53, of murdering Armando Miller deliberated for about four hours before reaching their decision. Abel sat with his head slightly bowed as the verdict was read but showed no other emotion.

Miller’s daughter was just 2 months old when he died, and on Wednesday the child’s mother sobbed when she heard the jury’s verdict.

“I can tell my little girl that the bad man who killed her dad will not be able to hurt anybody anymore,” said Holly Daniels, 27, of Moreno Valley. “Now I can go on with my life.”

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Miller’s mother, America Miller of Orange, said she felt relieved by the verdict.

“I feel like I finally have some peace,” Miller said. “Someone killed my son, and for years, we didn’t know who did it. We could only wonder.”

Abel will be sentenced Sept. 26 by Orange County Superior Court Judge Robert R. Fitzgerald, who will decide whether to follow the jury’s recommendation or sentence Abel to life in prison without parole.

The defendant killed Miller, 26, outside a Tustin bank branch on Jan. 4, 1991, where the victim had just withdrawn $20,000 for his parents’ check-cashing business. The victim was an aerobics instructor who also worked as a clerk at the family’s store.

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The case remained unsolved until 1995, when Tustin detective Tom Tarpley discovered a witness--Abel’s former girlfriend and crime partner--who said Abel confessed the killing to her.

Abel was serving a 44-year prison sentence for a series of robberies when he was charged with murder.

At trial, the defendant denied any involvement in the killing. The defense also argued that there was no physical evidence linking Abel to the murder and insisted that the prosecution’s key witness was unreliable.

Defense attorney George A. Peters Jr. said Wednesday his client was not surprised by the verdict. “The odds were extremely high that this was going to be the outcome,” he said.

Outside of court, jurors said the defendant’s criminal history, which includes more than 20 attempted robberies and robberies dating back to 1963, helped them reach their decision.

“It was a horrible crime, no matter which way you look at it,” said juror Wayne Browning of Garden Grove.


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